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2:54 PM on 01.25.2012

Important Elements of Demon's Souls' Design..sssss'''''

I just wanted to share a few observations about the design of Demon's Souls. It's not a game for everyone for sure. Some people just like brutal challenge more than others - nothing right or wrong or better or worse, it's just entertainment, folks. But, if you loved it like I did, here are some characteristics of its design that I think made it successful.

NUMERO UNO: Consistency. There was very little about Demon's Souls that was random. After going through an area dozens of times, I became very well attuned to where enemies would walk, when they would attack, how they would attack, and exactly how many stabs of my spear it would take to defeat them. And almost every single time, with few exceptions, it was all extremely predictable as long as I played my part the same way as well. In computer science terms, this makes it "deterministic" as opposed to "randomized." Most games introduce randomness in their combat systems and AI code in order to make things less predictable. But, keeping things predictable can be good because it makes it something that you can learn. If things behaved differently each time, the learning process would become more frustrating and lengthy. To put it more plainly, it's a tough target to hit, but at least it's not a moving target. I think this is what a lot of people are getting at when they say that Souls is "fair."

NUMERO TWO: Variety. Very rarely did I find myself going "ugh not this again" in Demon's Souls. I was usually going, "WTF IS THIS?" or " am I gonna tackle this?" This is in stark contrast with many modern games that basically recycle the same combat scenarios over and over one after another (Mass Effect 2, lookin' at you..). This took away a lot of the pain in backtracking, because I was at least backtracking through interesting and diverse sections of the levels. Sure, after a while, they no longer become challenging (and that progression is rewarding in itself), but you still had to employ different tactics through each section which meant that you could never just switch your brain off. At a higher level, each of the five worlds had their own mix of enemies and dangers and their own unique moods. Very rarely did they just recycle the same model with a different skin. Thematically and mechanically, Souls excelled in spicing up your experience and keeping things interesting.

NUMERO TRES: Skill-based Progression. Yes, there were RPG elements and I did do some grinding for Souls in order to upgrade my weapons and stuff, but the vast majority of the progression in the game came from the improvement of my own skills and understanding of the game. Most obviously, you learn the traps in the levels and how to avoid them. You learn how to deal with the various enemies and what attack patterns they use. You learn the optimal way to go through levels so backtracking is less tedious. You learn new ways of using your weapons and items. The fantastic combat mechanics are obviously far more skill-based than what you'd find in most RPGs. Sure, there were times when grinding for souls allowed me to make some upgrades that allowed me to get past certain bosses, but compared to most RPGs, the ratio of skill to time-based progression is much larger. Again, I rarely felt like I was mindlessly grinding. Even when I was "grinding" I was able to find particularly efficient ways of getting souls.

NUMERO QUATTRO: This Wiki. This is not exactly a part of the game's design, but it was absolutely vital to my enjoyment of the game. Demon's Souls is not a game that tells you much about itself, and discovering all that stuff on my own would've probably turned me off to the game. But, as with any good challenging game, a helpful community quickly grew around it, providing me with a means to short-cut all that trial and error. There was tons of information and loads of advice that got me through the experience. It really gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling and kind of restores your faith in humanity. Now, is it poor game design by From Software that I had to resort to the wiki? A year ago, I might have said "yes", but hey, most people have internet connections these days and know how to use the googles, so why not rely on it as designers? The guys who made Terraria sure as heck do, and they're doing great. Encouraging your players to do this is probably a good idea, and Demon's Souls did that with the message system (which in itself wasn't very helpful).

So, as an aspiring game designer, if I were to ever design a game like Demon's Souls, those are probably the things I would keep in mind the most as lessons learned. Anything that I missed?   read

7:34 PM on 12.24.2011

My top games of 2011

Not necessarily all games that came out in 2011, just the ones that I played the past year and would like to share with ya'll fine folks!

To the Moon - This game turned me into a pathetic, weeping little baby. It's a completely story-driven game, and the gameplay is minimal at best (don't let the first "battle" fool you - this is NOT a JRPG or much of anything really). And you know what? That's OK, because the story is touching and thoroughly enjoyable and quite unique among video games. It's a very human story told in the style of JRPGs, so if you enjoyed the cutscenes in games like Final Fantasy on the SNES, with pixelated sprites demonstrating a surprising amount of emotional dexterity, you'll feel right at home here. Again, this is no JRPG and it's barely an adventure game. What it is, however, is damn good.

Sequence (Google for "sequence iridium") - This indie gem takes rhythm game mechanics and mixes them with the RPG tropes of battles, character stat building, and loot. And yes, it's a genre-soup that is quite delectable to even the most jaded of gamers. The battle gameplay is frenetic, satisfying, and totally groovy. With a soundtrack that includes tracks from Ron Jenkees (of Youtube fame) and a well-written, off-beat story, Iridium games has put together one of the most unique and enjoyable games this year. It's probably dirt cheap on Steam right now, so do yourself a favor and just check it out.

VVVVVV - I don't typically enjoy skill-based platformers, and I never beat any of the Super Mario Bros games. So when I first saw VVVVVV about a year ago, I resisted. But finally, I decided to give it a shot again. After some initial frustration, it soon had me well hooked. Sure, there are screens where you'll die dozens of times to get your timing right, but the checkpoints are generous, those screens are usually quite clever and interesting, and it's not that brutal as far as platformers go. It ain't no Super Meat Boy, for sure. The most brutal parts ("Doing things the hard way" comes to mind) are optional. The soundtrack is also, for lack of better words, FUCKING AWESOME. The story is minimal but quite lovable, and I never got sick of the characters smiling and frowning. And man - just flipping through huge spaces and exploring the map never got old. Tons of fun!

Crysis 2 - This game probably isn't getting much GOTY love, and that's a shame because it's great shooter. Unlike MW3/BF3, its levels are pretty open-ended. You're basically thrown into some large arena and are given complete freedom as to how to approach it. The nanosuit stuff also allows you to jump higher and scale the levels vertically, which is pretty unique for FPS games (as far as I know). It's quite satisfying to climb on top of a ledge and take down enemies from above! I hope more FPS games follow suit and offer more dynamic experiences like Crysis 2.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - In some ways it did surpass the original, and in other ways it regressed. But hey, I still had a blast taking down fools in its Bladerunner-esque world, and I am absolutely looking forward to the next one. Let's hope they fix some of the gameplay issues, add in more variety to the world, and continue to champion the immersive shooter. Keep up the good work, Eidos Montreal!

Portal 2 - I don't think I need to say much about this masterpiece. The puzzles are great, the writing is fantastic (the lemon's rant...instant classic), the voice acting is probably the best the medium has ever seen, and the whole experience is expertly crafted all the way through.

And that's about all the games that come to mind. I hope you all have a great holidays, and happy new year! Next year's is looking great for games as usual - it's a good time to be alive, folks.   read

1:42 AM on 12.19.2011

We have we have "forms"?

You hear a lot about various video game "genres," such as FPS, RTS, action, adventure, action-adventure-FPS-MMO. But we don't hear much discussion about video game "forms". Now, I'm no film major, so I may be misusing some terms here (please correct me in the comments), but here are some "forms" of film I can think of: Music video, commercial, TV show, feature film, news, sports, etc.

Currently, video games mostly cover two of those forms analogously: feature film (AAA titles), and TV show (sort of with smaller releases). Of course, we do have some forms that I can't think of any film analogy for: Pure game-games, like Tetris. But how about articulating some of the other forms that video games can take?

Why is this a useful way to think about video games? Well, ever since the beginning of time, people have debated what games should and should not be. Is story important? How should game play and story interact? And the answer to all this really is: In every way imaginable. Can you imagine if people were to debate how film and music should interact? In a feature film, music typically complements the movie. But in a music video, the film complements the music! Ahhh what freedom they have in film! Why should games be any different? In some games, story complements the gameplay (Portal). In other games, gameplay complements the story (To The Moon, LA Noire). And yet other games are somewhere in between.

So, I think it's time we start forming a vocabulary for this kind of thing. This way, we can better communicate what exactly a particular game is - what "form" is it? If you watch a music video and expect a story, that's really your problem. But if I just tell you, "This is an action game", you don't really know whether or not to expect a solid story or not. This may lead you to regret your purchase! So, how about we start talking about games like this: "To the Moon is a story-driven adventure game." Or, "Uncharted 3 is a story-complemented action-adventure game." To the Moon's sole purpose is to tell you a story with some small interactive bits here and there, so it's "story-driven." Its interaction mechanics are largely about exploration and light puzzle solving, so "adventure" describes that. Uncharted 3 is an action-adventure game - it features cover-based shooting and light platforming. It is "story-complemented" because the story isn't really the point of the game - it's just to make the overall experience more enjoyable. Just as "Requiem for a Dream" wasn't made to showcase Clint Mansell's epic piece, it still made the overall experience more intense. And of course, there's a special art to film scoring, just as there will be a special art to game-story-writing.

If someone just wanted to write a song, they wouldn't go find a movie to write it for. They'd just write the song. But, maybe a movie inspires them to write a song, and then they tailor the song to really fit the movie. And that makes for a cool experience. Or maybe someone writes a song for a movie, and then it's just so good that it can stand on its own in the form of a soundtrack album. I think that's how we should be treating story in games (shit sorry I got off on a tangent): it's just one form of story, and games that have stories are just one form of game. And it's quite the challenging form!

OK sorry I got off a lil tangent there. But I hope this was coherent - off to bed now. G'night.   read

2:05 PM on 12.18.2011

Indie PSA: Zen Puzzle Garden

If you enjoy simple puzzle mechanics that lead to very challenging logic puzzles, then check out Zen Puzzle Garden: The basic mechanics are extremely simple, but you'll be surprised at how many rich and interesting puzzles arise from them. It's a very bare-bones puzzle game, so don't expect any story or anything. But the presentation is very soothing and contemplative and very appropriate to the game. So, strap on your thinking caps and give it a whirl. There's a demo.   read

11:35 AM on 11.25.2011

Storytelling in games? Stop worrying and just give me a good story.

Internet people sure spend a lot of time and words talking about how to tell a story in games. They write articles like this, trying to figure out what developers should and should not do when trying to tell a story in a game, or whether they should even try at all!

But I think I've come to realize that all of these high-level discussions are really just side-stepping the real issue: maybe you just didn't like the story the game was telling. It's not how it's told or how much agency the player has or whether or not the player ruins the story or how much "congruence" there is between story and gameplay and all that high-level just didn't like the damn story! Maybe the setting was boring to you, or you couldn't relate to it, or you just really disliked the voice acting.

I think we've solved story telling in games. There's a myriad of ways to do it, whether it's through cut-scenes or set pieces or radio logs or whatever. And I can confidently say the problem is solved because I've played many games that are quite successful in their story telling with quite different techniques. Portal 1/2 did a fantastic job just building a linear experience around you as a silent protagonist, and there were some brilliant moments where game play meshed with story beautifully. That's one way to do it. "To the Moon" barely had any game play, but I loved the story so much that the experience was thoroughly enjoyable anyway. That's another way to do it, and it's much like the approach taken by old-school adventure games. Uncharted 2 took yet another approach to the problem.

These games all approached the problem differently, but they were all successful because fundamentally, I (and a lot of others) just really enjoyed the story they were telling. Sure, I will say that Portal 1/2 probably had the coolest methods for story-telling, with Uncharted 2 coming in second, and "To the Moon" being the most mundane in its approach. And I do hope developers explore more cool ways to tell stories to give us cool, new experiences!

But if you just want to tell a good story? Fine - do it. There's so many ways to do it in a game, there's really no need to worry about "the right way." Use cutscenes - as long as they're good, I will gladly watch them! People that say "cutscenes are bullshit and anti-game" are just thinking about bad cut-scenes. And yeah, nothing kills a game's flow like a bad cut-scene. But guess what? Some of my favorite memories from great games are their cutscenes. MGS was hokey as hell but still had some great moments, Warcraft 2 had some seriously badass vignettes between missions, and "To the Moon" is pretty much one big cutscene.

Anyway, I'm just seriously tired of people downing video games and story telling and how there's something fundamentally wrong about combining the two.   read

12:56 AM on 11.21.2011

Indie PSA: You gotta check out "Sequence"

OK this indie game is really good, innovative, and only $6 so I just wanted to give it some love. Here, check it out: I really wish it had a demo, because I think if you played it for about 30 minutes you'd be hooked.

This game is DDR/Guitar Hero mixed with an RPG in a really fresh way. Yes, you're gonna be pressing some keys in time with some music, and if you suck at that you will suck at this game, but there's more to it than hitting the right keys. There's also a great strategic layer to it: There are three separate tracks you can focus on, and you need to strategically decide what track you'll pay attention to. One track is for defending against attacks - if there are keys coming down this track and you don't hit them, you get damaged. Another track is mana - there are no penalties for missing keys here, but you need to hit them to gain mana (which you need to attack). And finally there is the Spell track - everytime you use a spell, which you can do anytime, keys will show up in this track, and you need to hit them in order to actually cast the spell (to attack the enemy, heal yourself, etc.). Outside of this, there are meta-structures such as leveling up and a little bit of crafting, but that's the core of the game.

AND IT'S FUN AS HELL. It also features music by Ronald Jenkees, who is awesome. So please - check out some gameplay videos and if you're intrigued at all, BUY IT!

I don't work for the developers at all, but I'm an aspiring indie game developer, and I like telling people about awesome, innovative indie games. Cheers!   read

12:54 PM on 10.26.2011

Ballroom Dancing and Video Games

What does this...

...have to do with this?

Quite a bit, I believe. Let me explain.

I don't really know anything about ballroom dancing specifically, but I have taken many lessons in partnered swing dancing and some salsa lessons. All of these partnered dance styles have (at least) one thing in common: the dichotomy of the leader and the follower. The leader is "in charge" of the what happens broadly through out the dance (that usually lasts for one song). The follower is meant to, well, follow what the leader wants to do. If the leader does a good job, he (yes, I'm stereotyping for convenience) will execute an interesting sequence of moves that is full of variety and that goes along well with the music. He will also - and this is extremely important - give the proper cues at the proper times to the follower so that the follower can properly respond to his leads. Such cues involve subtle physical motions, such as a gentle but firm push on the waist to indicate that he wants her to spin a certain way. The follower's job is to know these cues and respond to them in a timely manner. When both leader and follower do a good job, both people have a good time, and that's how babies are made. All of this, of course, requires experience. The leader must be experienced in giving cues, and the follower must be experienced in responding to cues. This is what lessons and practice are for.

In video games, it is the designer's job to create a sequence of experiences for the player in a way that is well-paced and well-communicated. The designer may have some great ideas, such as "Oh it would be awesome if the player could take this pumpkin, smash this guy with it, and then kick the other dude in the face and say 'Halloween came early this year, punk!'". But how can we make the player have that awesome experience? You could put it in a cut scene, but that would completely nullify the experience. It would be the difference between watching other people dance versus actually dancing yourself. What you really need to do is to give the player enough cues at the proper times so they know to perform those actions and thus have an awesome little experience. Of course, you also need to train the player ahead of time to perform each of those actions in the right way with the corresponding cues, just as a follower needs to know how to actually do the basic moves (such as spins, steps, etc.) and what the cues are for those. But if you have all those ingredients, you can have the player doing some awesome stuff just by giving hints and nudges here and there. You can then design some awesome sequences, synchronized with music and graphics and what not, that the player will go through with high probability (some followers just suck - can't do much about that).

I think most great games do this to a large extent. One of my favorite moments in gaming was in Shadow of the Colossus: I was fighting the big flying worm thing with wings, and I wasn't quite sure how to get on it. But after a bit of thought, it clicked with me: I needed to get on my horse, chase it down, ride up to its wings, and then jump off my horse. The game never had me doing this before, but I had done all the pieces of it. Then with some subtle hints, such as the low position of the wings, the sequence of actions suddenly clicked with me. This sequence of actions is usually the stuff of cut scenes, but here I was actually doing it. It was thrilling, to say the least. Moments like that are why I love video games.

This is nothing new here - good game designers know that you need to train the player and then use that training in the future. But I think it's an interesting way of looking at it that offers some interesting insights (to me at least). For example, a lot of good dancers don't consciously think about cues. I'm not very good at swing dancing, and I had a girl tell me once, "I'm not sure what you need to do, but you're not doing it and I don't know that you want me to spin here." So there's almost a perceived psychic connection between two good dancers, and as a game designer if you can establish that with your players, that's pretty damn cool.   read

12:32 PM on 09.30.2011

Wishlist for the next Deus Ex

This is just, ya know, my opinion for what I hope Eidos Montreal does for the next Deus Ex game. I really enjoyed Human Revolution, and I can't wait for the next one already.


The devs already know about the boss battles, so I'm not gonna dwell on that.

More melee options. I really did not like how melee take-downs were done. They use a ton of energy, which is unexpected, and the animations take way too long to play. To me, this made playing stealth much more difficult than it should be. The original DX had some great melee options that you could upgrade, although some of it was over-powered by the end of the game (full low-tech + dragon sword = unstoppable cyber ninja).

I really enjoyed the jump/landing augs, so how about more stuff like that? Maybe an augmentation that lets me climb up walls, or at least hang off ledges Crysis-style? Put some Assassin's Creed in my Deus Ex! Stealth parkour...that sounds quite yummy.

Less emphasis on hacking. I'm drawing a blank on any constructive thoughts here...I just found the hacking mini-game - like most hacking mini-games - to be terribly dull and repetitive. "Ugggghhh not this crap again." The only hacking "game" I ever liked was the original Deus Ex. Yeah man, I would rather sit there and wait for a bar to fill up than do some silly mini-game. Or, give me more options, like the multi-tools, to avoid hacking altogether.

More enemy variety. No need to elaborate, I think.

More environment variety. The original Deus Ex had a ridiculous amount of variety in its environments. I understand it's a bit unfair to compare the two, since production values are so high these days, but it's something to thrive for. Office buildings and warehouses overstayed their welcome in Human Revolution.

Anyway, kudos to Eidos Montreal on a job well done and a bright future for a beloved franchise!   read

2:40 PM on 09.26.2011

Sequelitis is Good for Innovation

Gears of War 3. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (3). Battlefield 3. Uncharted 3. Modern Warfare 3. Mass Effect 3. Diablo 3. And that's just the '3's!

I used to look at these lists and get depressed, but now I've found a new appreciation for so-called "sequelitis." And I'd like to propose that it's actually quite good for everyone - consumers and developers - in the current gaming industry. "But how can that be, Steve? Surely such an extreme epidemic of sequelitis is a sign of imminent creative-death and overbearing greed in the industry! We'll all be playing Tony Hawk's Call of Madden: World Tour 5 in no time if the publishers don't start taking more risks!" Calm down, fellow gamer, it's really not that bad at all.

First, the obvious advantage of sequels: They make for better games. Assassin's Creed is a fine example of a game becoming more and more refined with subsequent releases. The first game was fairly innovative, but it was pretty lukewarm. But with the sequels, they really got in their groove and that made for some really cool games. Of course, at some point this benefit starts diminishing and things start to get boring...

But that second "milking" phase only lasts for so long. Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero (and rhythm games in general) are two franchises that were milked to death, and now nobody cares much about them anymore. Call of Duty will suffer the same fate if they don't innovate, and God of War 3 had a tinge of this in it. So, while I agree that the "milking" phase is boring and depressing for both consumers and developers, it doesn't last for very long.

Sequels are usually a safe bet (before the end of the milking phase), and this is good for the financial stability of the industry. Large companies are responsible for the livelihoods of hundreds of employees, not to mention their shareholders (which are often linked to the retirement funds of hard-working individuals). Without this predictability, you would get a lot less investment in the industry as a whole, and that would suck for everyone.

And lastly, sequelitis is not crushing innovation! These days, with the emergence of downloadable platforms and iOS and all that, innovation is thriving more than ever! If you can't find innovative games, you're not looking hard enough. Sure, you may have to look a little harder, but it's all there and there's TONS of it.

I want to leave you with this thought: What if sequelitis is actually indirectly INCREASING innovation? Think about it: If AAA studios were actually focusing on innovation, they would squeeze out many smaller developers with their money and resources. If Activision made Braid and did a good job, Jonathan Blow wouldn't have a chance against their production values and marketing. But if you're a small indie developer and you see Call of Duty 12 coming out, that is good news for you! Because you know certain gamers will be starving for innovation, and they will likely look to indie games like yours to get their fix. So this lowers the barrier to entry for smaller developers, and that results in a far more diverse industry, ripe with some amazing ideas.

So don't bitch, be happy :)   read

1:46 PM on 08.31.2011

Just finished Human Revolution - SPOILERS!


Oof lemme catch my breath here.

I love procrastinating because I despise my other graduate student responsibilities, so this past week I decided to make Human Revolution my top priority and finished it up. Verdict? It was a hoot of a good time and I will likely replay it at some point! So in this little write-up, I'm just gonna talk about some things I really enjoyed about the game. But, I'm gonna start by listing what I think was bad, because I really hope Eidos Montreal will make another one - which I will buy - and in that one, I hope they fix some of these issues (assuming other people had similar issues).

Let's start with the hacking. To be blunt, I really don't enjoy the hacking mini-game and the augmentations around it. It's not very interesting, and it feels like total filler. It's not as annoying as BioShock's mini-game, but it's getting there. I wouldn't mind if they did what the original DX did and just made hacking purely a matter of waiting around for a bar to fill up. Sure, it's even less interesting, but it's also far less annoying. I have never played a hacking mini-game that was worth the time it took to play, whether it be Mass Effect or Splinter Cell, so my vote would be to just dump the idea completely. But, feel free to surprise me! The way hacking is tied to the augmentations is also pretty annoying. When I get a new augmentation, it should be like getting a new toy to play with. But spending a praxis point just to be able to hack more terminals? That's not nearly as satisfying as, for example, being able to jump and fall higher.

Some folks at Gamers With Jobs brought this up, and I have to agree: Human Revolution doesn't have much variety in its environments. For the most part, you're creeping around office buildings and hall ways. Whether it's an apartment, a lab, or a club, there aren't very many particularly memorable locations. This is probably a result of its context: All the locations HR explores have been done to death in previous games in the stealth genre. Hell, even the original Deus Ex did almost all of the locations you find in HR. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but I hope Eidos Montreal takes more chances on the next game and let us creep around in more exotic, creative locations.


The stealth feels great, especially with the cover and cover-switching system, but there are some issues: It seems overly expensive to do non-lethal take downs. The manual knock-out spends a whole battery, and that really limits your ability to use it in conjunction with other augmentations (such as invisibility). In the original DX, you just had to sneak up behind a guard and knock them out with the black jack. Quick and simple. HR? A whole long elaborate animation plays out, exposing you even further. The other option is the stun gun, which is nice and snappy, but there is too little stun gun ammo. Maybe I should've used the tranquilizer gun as well, which I didn't touch at all, but the result of this is that half way through, I abandoned my non-lethal ways and just did what was quickest. The result?


That's OK. SPOILER ALERT After they killed Malik, I didn't even think twice about shooting and stabbing the life juice out of each and every single one of those helmet-wearing jokers. And hey, that made the game a ton more fun! So what did HR teach me about life? Sometimes, it's more fun to let your moral fiber loosen up a little. Makes sense.

Anyway, enough with the downers...

It is undeniable that the team at Eidos Montreal understands what made Deus Ex so especially fun. They understand freedom, consistency, upgrades, stealth, and story. They competently channel the spirit of Deus Ex in a way that I did not think was possible for a modern game studio. They also understand the stealth genre as a whole and tastefully sample the best ideas from exemplars of the genre. Kotaku has a whole article about this, and I totally agree so I won't repeat what they say. But the most interesting and perhaps unexpected influence would be Crysis 2. Once I got the jumping and landing augmentations, exploring became way more enjoyable for me. This totally reminded me of how I felt jumping around in Crysis 2, which was pure joyous fun. More FPS's should do this!

And once you get the heavy-pickup aug, you can pick-up turrets! How cool is that? Just pick them up, and put them down facing a corner. Shame on you, turret, trying to shoot me and go sit in the corner and think about what you did. Shout out to Portal!

The mini-map is great. It really is one of the best map systems I've seen for a 3D game. But it should have been revealed as you go, because having all the hallways revealed to me straight from the get-go robs me of the fun of discovery. Also, the ability to make notes on the map (e.g. "Merchant here") would've been great (channeling Ultimate Underworld here). But all in all, fantastic implementation.

And last but not least, the implementation of ladder climbing is the best I've ever experienced. Certainly better than ladder climbing in the original Deus Ex.

Aight I guess this article ended up being more negative than positive, but if you're reading this you've hopefully finished the game already, and you know how much fun it really is. Cheers.   read

3:25 PM on 08.23.2011

Ever Notice How...facial expressions are often neglected?

'Scuse me, Mr. Jensen, but did you notice that you are currently punching through a fucking wall?

That's a screenshot from the latest Deus Ex trailer (apologies for the low-res). Jensen is punching through a wall, as you can tell by his arm and fist. But his face? He might as well be watching another episode of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. I mean, I know he's supposed to be cool and badass and what not, so maybe he just doesn't give a flying fuck because punching through a wall is old hat to him. But...I would expect to see a slight wrinkle in his brow, maybe his mouth opens a little to revealing clenching teeth? Maybe that's just me.

I've noticed this disconnect in a ton of photo-realistic games, and it often takes me out of the immersion. Sports games are often guilty of this as well. Check out this screenshot from NBA 2K12:

I don't think that's how NBA players look when they're going for a dunk. "Yeah man, just another day on the court, going for a slam dunk. How's your kid doing in school?"

So, a simple message to all game developers making photo-realistic games: Please, don't ignore facial animation!   read

7:14 AM on 07.22.2011

id's Rage and lack of innovation

I was pretty excited about Rage when I first heard about it. It was a chance for id to redeem itself for the mish mash of mediocrity that was DOOM3 and hopefully bring the company and the brand back to its prior glory. It had a punchy, single-worded title and a promising new engine from John Carmack. What could go wrong?

Needless to say, my expectations were high. id has a history of being the alpha-male of the pack, leading the rest of the industry into uncharted territory with a headstrong mix of rock solid, innovative technology and unrelenting action gameplay. From Wolfenstein 3D to Doom to Quake, id always left others in the dust. Hell, back in high school, their games inspired me to pursue a career in computer graphics. Could Rage recapture that magic?

Well, judging from the marketing materials and testimonials of those who have played it, Rage seems to be the product of id playing catch up with the rest of the industry. Ouch. Watching Tim Willits in those videos getting excited about the open-world wasteland, characters you can interact with, vehicles, and diverse weaponry is like getting a Facebook friend request from your senile grand father who used to be a rock star back in the day. And how our stars have faded.

But you know what? This is what id needs right now. The company has changed quite a bit in the past couple of decades, with key employees leaving, and it needs to find its groove with its new team. The industry has also rapidly changed, and id is likely experiencing some growing pains in order to adapt to the new realities of AAA game development. A wise man once said, you need to walk before you can run. If DOOM3 was a stumble (too damn dark to see where you're going lololol), Rage is id getting back on its feet. The old days of id sprinting ahead and blowing our collective minds like a shotgun may yet come in the future, but id will take it one step at a time.

I can't say that Rage looks innovative, but I can say that it looks polished, competent, and - quite importantly - fun. And I can respect that. Mike Tyson may not be able to knock his opponents out in 8 seconds flat anymore, but I still wouldn't want to get in a fight with the guy. Tiger Woods may no longer wipe the floor with players twice his age, but he's still way better than most golfers. So let's temper our expectations, give Rage a chance, and stop talking mess about id just because it is not the second coming of Christ. And hey, maybe the vehicle combat is actually quite innovative, and they just have no idea how to get that across in the marketing.

I'll end with a prediction: I think Rage will do quite well commercially. Sure, it looks a lot like Fallout 3 and Borderlands, but those games aren't coming out this fall. The other major shooters it will be competing with are Uncharted 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Resistance 3, and Deus Ex: HR (which is technically, you guessed it, number 3 in the series). In terms of theme and gameplay - and apparently sequel status - Rage stands out. Bethesda is also leaving no stone unturned with its marketing campaign, and I imagine the vast majority of consumers won't care as much as we do about its apparent lack of innovation. If id makes a fun, solid shooter and Bethesda plasters that logo everywhere, it will do just fine and people will dig it.

A toast to you, id Software. May you one day strike gold again. But if you don't, that's alright. You've done plenty.   read

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